The Laker football team (5-1) hosted Rolla for an Ozark Conference matchup and Homecoming on Friday, Sept. 22. Camdenton's rushing attack dominated the first half, but Rolla made things interesting in the fourth quarter. Rolla got within three points in the final minute, but the Lakers’ Riley Stidham recovered the final onside kick to seal a 45-42 win.
After Rolla took the early 7-0 lead on a 9-yard run, the Lakers punched right back. The Camdenton running game was nearly unstoppable on the first drive, as a slew of backs ripped off big gain after big gain. Camdenton worked its way all the way down 2-yard line, where Todd Simpson leapt over his line on 4th-and-2 to cross the goal line for a Laker touchdown. A blocked extra point made it 7-6.
After Rolla was stuffed on the next drive, thanks in part to a sack from Bo Shore, it didn't take long for Camdenton to take advantage. Gabe Kurtz snuck through some traffic at the line of scrimmage on his way to a 74-yard touchdown. Jacob Hill was able to convert for two and the Lakers led 14-7.
The Rolla offense was shut down again on the ensuing drive, forcing another Rolla punt. Camdenton then only needed two plays to go 67 yards for a touchdown, which came on a 35-yard run from Hill to push the Camdenton lead to 21-7. Rolla was able to get back into a bit of a rhythm on its next drive with a big 83-yard run to cut the deficit to 21-14.
After that, Camdenton dominated the half. Rolla seemed to be on its way to forcing a turnover when they held the Lakers to a fourth-and-short on the 27, but Isaiah Lumley flipped a sweep out to Hill and the Laker running back took it 27 yards to the house to push their lead to 28-14. Rolla was stuffed on 4th-and-1 on its next drive, which opened the door for Camdenton to work the ball down the field on the way to a 1-yard touchdown by Jay Griffin. The Lakers added a 35-yard field goal from the leg of Coleman Baker with 10 seconds left in the half and went into the locker room with a 38-14 lead.
Both teams had a quiet third quarter that went scoreless. Camdenton elected to pass the ball a bit more, but Rolla wouldn't give them the big play. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs struggled to keep Josh Pritchett on his feet, as the senior quarterback took several sacks in the quarter. However, it didn't take much time in the fourth for Rolla to find the spark they needed.
Pritchett and Davis Buhr were a dynamic duo on Friday night and that picked up in the fourth. First, Pritchett found his fellow senior for a 57-yard strike to bring the score to 38-20, but the Bulldogs couldn't convert for two. After a fourth down stop on defense, Pritchett found Buhr again. He tossed one up in the end zone and Buhr came back, reaching around a defender, to grab a 36-yard touchdown. The next 2-point conversion was good though to close the gap to 38-28 with 4:54 to play.
Rolla elected to kick the ball onside after the touchdown, but the kick didn't go 10 yards and the ball was given to the Lakers on the 44. Camdenton tried to put a kibosh on the Bulldog comeback, as Todd Simpson scored on the first play to stretch their lead back out to 45-28.
But the Bulldogs came out firing on their next drive. Pritchett found the right sideline and ran 20 yards for the touchdown, knocking down the pylon as he was hit on the goal line. Another 2-point conversion brought the score to 45-36 with just 2:44 left in the game.
Rolla again kicked the ball onside, but Camdenton recovered. The Lakers were called for a personal foul on the recovery, before getting stopped on their first three plays and were forced to punt. Rolla was forced to burn all three of their timeouts on the series, so the clock would not be on their side for the remainder of the game.
Rolla had a bit of work to do. Pritchett couldn't complete his passes on the first two downs, but he managed to run for an eight yard gain on third down. With its back against the wall, Rolla needed a big play on fourth down and they got one on a swing pass by a matter of inches. A 6-yard touchdown pass from Pritchett followed, but the extra point was blocked by Shore, so Rolla trailed by a field goal with 24 seconds left to play.
Rolla needed one more big play to complete the comeback, but it was a big play that wouldn't come. Pritchett kicked the ball onside, but Stidham recovered and Isaiah Lumley dropped to a knee to seal the win.
While Rolla made things interesting late, the Laker running game can't be overlooked. As a team, the Lakers rushed for 397 yards and six touchdowns. Hill led the way with 88 yards and two scores and Simpson was right behind him with a pair of scores and 85 yards on the ground. Jackson Ezard didn't fins the end zone, but he still ripped off 83 yards on eight carries. Kurtz added 77 yards a touchdown, while Griffin contributed 48 yards and a score in his second game back from injury.
Running an effective offense is a bit easier for head coach Jeff Shore when he's got so many kids who can find the end zone at any time.
"That was kind of the key to the first half," said coach Shore of his running game. "We kinda tried to spread it around a little bit and get some guys going."
This season has been a change of pace for Hill, the team's leading rusher on Friday night. With Griffin's injury earlier this season, Hill shifted from receiver to running back and he's made the most of it. He was thrilled to make a big impact in front of a huge crowd on Homecoming.
"It feels amazing. This is my first time actually starting at running back this year and it's something else that I haven't experienced before," said Hill. "I just go out there and try to do my best. As soon as I broke those, it felt amazing. Getting those touchdowns, every time it's just something unreal."
One of the reasons Rolla was able to get back into the game was some great passing by Pritchett. The senior quarterback is as dual-threat as they come, which meant that the Laker secondary needed to keep their eyes in the backfield in case he decided to run. That gave Rolla the opportunity to get over some of those defenders for big plays.
"We had some good heat on him, but couldn't get him tackled a couple of times. He had a pretty amazing touchdown run. He's a good quarterback, you see it on film. We didn't do as good of a job on him tonight as I'd like to tonight, to his credit. But he's a good player that's hard to bring down and it puts you in a little bit of a bind back there. Do you come up to stop him or do you stay back to stop the pass?"
The win puts Camdenton in a tie with Joplin for the top of the Ozark Conference. Lebanon took down West Plains on Friday night to bump down the Zizzers. A big conference win on Homcoming to maintain that conference lead gives the Lakers a lot of confidence as they fight for that conference crown.
"That puts us in first place, which is great. The conference is great," said coach Shore. "We have other aspirations as well, we're always trying to win those playoff games and go as far as ya can in the playoffs and hopefully all the way, that's always our goal. The conference championship is definitely something to play for at this point in time and we will play for it until it's done, then we'll focus on trying to win some playoff games."
Camdenton will look to keep their share of the conference lead next week when they travel to the winless Waynesville Tigers on Friday, Sept. 29 for a contest at 7 p.m.